Now available from Open Books Press,
The Sweden File: Memoir of an American Expatriate, Second Edition
Winner of Memoir Magazine’s 2022 Memoir Book Prize in the Category “Moral Conflict!”
Chosen by the Kansas City Star as one (out of 12) of the best memoirs of 2015!
New edition featured on “New Letters on the Air“—listen to the interview HERE.
First edition featured on KKFI 90.1 FM—listen to the segment HERE.
Reviewed by Kirkus—see review here
The Sweden File recounts Alan’s late brother Bruce’s journey from a young Defense Intelligence Agency operative to a deserter from the Vietnam War. Bruce’s ambition was to be Secretary of State—and he was on his way with top secret clearance in the late 60s at age 26. His work as a photographic interpreter, however, compelled him to acknowledge the war as immoral. Appalled by his discovery—images which showed the bombing of civilian villages in Southeast Asia—he told the Pentagon he must quit for reasons of conscience. “You can’t quit,” Pentagon officials told him. “You have top-secret clearance. It will take six months to debrief you.”
Nonetheless, Bruce quit that week, causing a furor in the Pentagon. To protect himself from possible retaliation from the FBI or CIA, Bruce joined the Air National Guard which, at the time, was not being sent overseas. Unfortunately, within a few months President Johnson nationalized Bruce’s unit, and several others, with orders to fight in Vietnam. Bruce went AWOL and booked a flight to Stockholm. His life there, with his new wife (who spoke a little Swedish), was not the Shangri-La he had imagined. He never learned the language therefore had few job opportunities.
The book has three narrative voices: Bruce’s letters from 1968–1972 while living in Sweden; his later comments on life recounted (and sometimes hidden) from his letters’ recipients; and Alan’s comments and observations which Bruce would not commit to writing. For example, the brothers share direct lineage to John Proctor, the condemned Salem witch who was hanged in 1792. Bruce and John Proctor faced similar moral conflicts. And, incidentally, the time at age 16, when he gave Marilyn Monroe a ride in a motorboat!
Set 50 years ago, The Sweden File and Bruce’s struggle with morality are still eerily commonplace with today’s conflicts the world over.
“I guess more than anything else about this book, and I like many things about it, is the unwavering truth – the unblinking truth the author takes on his journey. It’s rare. There are no literary awards or grandstanding, mind-numbing self-acclamation here, only human beings striving to undo the sorrow of war the best they can. [As a teacher,] I surely would recommend this book to all high school kids, they [sadly] need…to understand [this] aspect of American history neglected and subverted by politicos, often twisting the truth until it’s nothing more than dishrag repugnant with the stench of death. No, in some beautiful way this book is a celebration of the heart’s love of life and truth. Bravo.” – Jimmy Santiago Baca
Mr. Baca is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, as well as essays, memoirs, stories and a screen play which was made into a feature length film (Bound by Honor, 1993). Baca received the American Book Award for Poetry in 1989. He is also a Pushcart winner and the recipient of the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature.
“…This book, with its counterpointed perspectives, intimate epistolary narratives, and later commentary, bridges distances of time and place, bringing into focus years when few were spared the grief and sacrifices of a nation led into a distant war that should never have been born….” – David Ray
Poet and essayist, David Ray, is the author of 24 books, the founding editor of New Letters Magazine and—among other honors—has twice won the William Carlos Williams Award, and also the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award.
“Most of us will never find ourselves in a situation in which doing what’s morally right is a serious threat to our well-being. The Sweden File is a book about someone who faced such a situation and made the life-rending choice. It’s an account of a quiet, sustained heroism.” – William Trowbridge
William Trowbridge has authored four books of poetry, three chapbooks and was the Missouri Poet Laureate from 2012 – 2014. Honors include the Academy of American Poets Prize, and a Pushcart Prize among many other awards. Trowbridge is a Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at Northwestern Missouri State University.